You can’t be everybody’s cup of tea (why would you want to be?)

It’s been about two weeks, and I’m astonished at how good I feel most of the time. I’ve really been enjoying — not just tolerating, but enjoying — the time to focus on myself and my kids. Not 100 percent of the time, but I feel like I don’t have that restless urge to go out and distract myself with someone else, to use their attention as a Band-Aid.

I still have some lingering frustrations over the lack of communication regarding, well, everything as our relationship fell apart. And I miss the security and the love that I felt with him — or thought I felt. But in the end, I know it’s better to be alone and happy than be in a relationship with a man who won’t or can’t communicate his feelings in a healthy, productive way, and who, in  hindsight, was willing to let me shoulder all the blame.

In my last session with Sara, she suggested we talk through what he might say if I did talk to him. I reached the conclusion that it probably wouldn’t be anything different from what I’d heard before. I’m not sure he’s capable of seeing his own rigidity in the situation. She also gently suggested that I had very willingly picked up every speck of blame for the events that led our previous breakup, and that there had been many ways he could have reacted in that situation that would have been kinder or more comforting.

The thing I really got out of my talk with her, though, was when I brought up the struggles I wrote about in my last post — the feeling that most men only really care about my appearance, and that it’s incredibly hurtful to feel like they’re fine with what’s on the outside but don’t stick around once they see the inside. Ouch.

Rebecca CampbellI compared it to feeling like a book that someone thinks has a fascinating-looking cover, then puts down once they page through it and realize it’s of no interest to them. In once case, a guy actually told me that he found my personality off-putting but that if we were to “lie next to each other all day and get to know each other,” he might like me better. I declined his kind offer.

Sara reminded me that I was an a outspoken, independent and intelligent woman (I don’t know that I’d always agree with the “independent,” but I’ll bow to her professional opinion!) and that that’s not what everyone is looking for. It isn’t a personal judgment; it’s just not what they want and/or are comfortable with.

Just the day before, I had read the following in Thich Nhat Hanh’s “No Mud, No Lotus”:

Cold air can be painful if you aren’t wearing enough warm clothes.  But when you’re feeling overheated or you’re walking outside with proper clothing, the bracing sensation of cold air can be a source of feeling joy and aliveness. … The rainy day that ruins your plans for a picnic is a boon for the farmer.

I felt as if someone had just smacked a 10-foot gong directly next to my head. How did it take SO long for that to hit home?

Just because I pick up a book and put it down, because I realize it’s an espionage novel and I prefer historical fiction, doesn’t mean it’s a bad novel. Someone might think it’s the best book they’ve ever read. It might be EXACTLY the book they’re looking for. It’s just not the book for ME.

Right now, I’m tired of paging through books, and I’m tired of being picked up, thumbed through (oh, that sounds gross, actually) and put back down. I like being on my shelf, and I’m content to stay here until I feel I’ve rewritten things a bit.

‘The hot chick clock’

My friend Moira once sent me a text so insightful and useful that I screenshotted it so I could re-read it often. It read, in part, “You think that time — not the availability of men — is limited. On some level, you think your looks are the only way to get a man, and you worry that the hot chick clock is running out.”

I was worried about that as a newly divorced 37-year-old, then as a 39-year-old with a broken engagement, and I confess I worry about it still as a 41-year-old.

It has been a blessing to have a pretty face and a nice figure, in many ways. (And this is something that’s difficult to talk about with many people, because not only does it sound awfully egotistical, but complaining about it sounds worse yet. “Oh my gosh, it’s SO hard being conventionally attractive!”)

if-you-value-yourself-you-understand-that-you-are-a-gift-to-anyone-you-meet-quote-1At the same time, it frequently attracts the wrong type of guy. And when you spend enough time being valued primarily for your appearance, the message eventually sinks in that that is where your true worth lies. (As if society doesn’t push that idea on women enough!) It doesn’t matter if you’re funny, or kind, or intelligent — that isn’t the reason this man is with you.

He doesn’t care about your kids, or your day at work, or your thoughts on politics. He may put on a good show … but only for so long, before it becomes clear that what you like and what you need aren’t terribly important to him. Or maybe he does care about your views, your family, your job, to a certain degree, but they’re just the icing on the cake. Your looks, of course, being the cake — the real reason he’s here. And what happens when those fade, or you put on a few pounds from stress or babies? Or he sees a slightly tastier-looking cake? Real love can’t be built just on physical attraction, because that’s building on a foundation of sand.

When I was engaged to M., a friend asked me once, “What would he do if you were in a disfiguring accident?” And I had to admit (to myself, if not to her) that I didn’t want to think too hard about the answer to that one. It was a sickening feeling, and one that I never want to experience again.

(I should add here that this post is not about C. in particular —  I never believed he was with my primarily for my looks — but it does reflect my experiences with many of the other men I’ve dated.)

I want a man who sees ME as the cake — my heart, my mind, my soul, my personality — and the rest as the frosting. But I’ve realized that as long  as I was putting my value in my appearance and made that the thing that I most felt would get me a guy, I was going to end up with a man who valued me for precisely no more and no less.

Your heart is the gift. Don’t give it to a guy who only wants the wrapping paper.

Lesson overview

I’m fighting the impulse go back through this blog and erase every mention of C. That’s always my first thought — pretend it didn’t happen and hide the evidence. Delete the photos and texts, unfriend him on Facebook, and don’t face any unpleasant reminders.

And yes, the photos and texts ARE gone. I’ve blocked him on Facebook, not because I don’t want him to know anything about my life but because I don’t want the temptation of focusing too much on his. But erasing the evidence won’t erase the past, and this blog is about my journey. Like it or not, he’s part of it.

I’ve learned a lot from my relationship with him:

  • I’ve learned that while I do have trust issues, I can put my nose to the grindstone, do the work, and make progress. I feel that I actually handled a difficult situation with maturity and understanding. There are things I wish I would have done differently, but overall, I know I did far better than I would have even a few months ago.
  • I’ve learned that not everything that goes wrong in a relationship is my fault, and that my first impulse is no longer to accept responsibility for things I don’t genuinely feel responsible for.
  • What-you-learn-e1415477706247I’ve learned that I can recognize and call out inappropriate or hurtful behavior, and not feel regret if that person chooses to no longer be in my life because of it.
  • I’ve learned that breaking up with someone who has shut you out and hurt you and blamed you and then ended things via text without even attempting to talk things out with you is really not too painful when you think about what a lifetime with that person might have been like.

The biggest struggle has the cognitive dissonance — how did the man who had been so loving, so thoughtful on so many occasions turn into this guy? What happened to the man who called me the love of his love and said he wanted to go everywhere in the world with me? How did he go from introducing me to his children to ending things over such a foolish argument?

The only answer I have is that he was very happy with our relationship while things were easy and undemanding, but that he couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with the more challenging aspects. And that’s confusing to me, because I feel like we had done that before. Twice in the earlier days, I had ended our relationship because of concerns I had over some events from his past. I know he was hurt, but he was kind, and both times we worked through it. Maybe the difference was that, those times, I was willing to take all the blame.

I don’t really miss him. I feel like I can’t, because I’m not even sure I knew him. But there is definitely a sense of emptiness and loss. I miss what I thought we had.

Square one

C. and I are through, permanently, and so I am back to where I started.  And this time, I feel it will be much easier, because it has become apparent to me that he was not the man that I had thought.

On Saturday, I was at a friend’s party when I ran into J., who used to work for my friend. J and I have a lot of common interests, and although I found her a tad nutty, she has generally been a lot of fun. In fact, I had also run into her recently at a party for C.’s running group.

On Saturday, she was so drunk that my first thought was, “My God, I hope she didn’t drive here.” She proceeded to tell me, unsolicited, that C. had a reputation for hitting on other women in their group. That didn’t particularly sound like him, and other things she said made me wonder if she was confusing him with someone else, but I still found it a little distressing at the time. After some reflection, I was less upset but felt it should still be discussed.

That night, I talked to C. I told him what J. had said. I was clear that she had been drunk and seemed confused, and that I would find her a dubious source of information at the best of times. And I added that even if it were true, I understood that it wasn’t a betrayal of me if he had flirted with other women in the group before we met, although I would perhaps rather he not run with someone he had a past romantic interest in.

He was LIVID. Mostly at J., but when I added the part about him not running with other women he’d been interested in, he said, “See, THIS is why I’m so mad! You’re spiraling over this bullshit!”

I pointed out that I wasn’t spiraling. And for some reason, at that point, it seemed like a great idea to point out that his declarations of, “This is bullshit!” seemed more like a non-denial denial, like something a politician would say. (I suspect that, although I hadn’t believed most of what J. said in the first place, his extremely angry reaction made me start to wonder if he “doth protest too much.”) As you might imagine, that made things exponentially worse.

He was so furious he told me he was done with the conversation and was going to bed. I begged him not to go, not to leave it like this, but he was insistent, firmly said, “Good NIGHT, A.,” and hung up.

In the morning, I got a very curt message from him telling me the conversation had really hurt and that we would talk later. I responded that I had believed him and still did, that it was stupid to get hung up on semantics and that I was sorry. I added that as hard as I was working, there would still be struggles and I needed to feel he was a safe person to talk to. I told him to enjoy  his day with his kids and that I looked forward to talking later. Later, after I ran about (which he loves to do), I told him how nice it felt to run after so long and that I wanted to share that with him, and I loved him.

He didn’t respond, and he didn’t call that night. I received a few more very terse, curt messages from him, and my friends who saw them were stunned at how cold and withdrawn he was. He didn’t call Monday night, either. He had been supposed to have dinner with us and meet my children that day, though he had informed me in the morning he no longer felt it was a good idea (which I agreed with). That was also the night J. chose to message me and tell me she’d had C. confused with someone else.

Instead, this morning, I received a text admitting that he cared about me and knew this wasn’t the best way to handle things, but that he couldn’t do this anymore.

I was not stunned that he was choosing to end it — one of his previous texts, send Monday night after I apologized yet again and told him how much I wanted to fix this, informed me, “I don’t want to hear it” and accused me of backpedaling.

But I was stunned that the man I had so cared for, who had called me the “love of his life,” who had seemed so mature and so kind in so many respects, was ending our relationship by text message over such a stupid argument.

I replied:

I’m astonished that you felt this was appropriate. However, your very cold tone and disrespectful words towards me the past few days had also begun to persuade me we were incompatible. People who love each other should be able to respectful and kind even when hurt and angry. I would kindly suggest that just as I am working on my own issues, you look at your communication skills.

You came back to me knowing this would be a work in progress. I will not beat myself up for being unable to make an overnight transformation.

I was proud of that. I felt I was kind and firm and expressed my own concerns in an appropriate way without belittling him or lashing out.

breakupmemetext-6NpwdmI did cry. Hard. The kids saw me sobbing and hugged me. I told them they wouldn’t be meeting “Mr. C,” and that just like Mommy and Daddy had decided they weren’t a good match, Mr. C. and I had as well. I said that I was sorry and I knew they’d been excited to meet him. My oldest said, “I was excited too. Now I’m just mad.”

I texted Sara, my therapist, who promised to get me in as soon as possible. I talked to several friends, who were as appalled as I was. I cried to my boss, who told me it sounded like C. had a lot of issues going on. (Yes, I wear my heart on my sleeve, why do you ask?)

And while I’m sad and hurt and angry, I also feel relieved. I had not seen this angry, hurtful side of C., and I don’t believe he has a “healthy emotional core,” as one friend put it. It’s possible to be mad at someone and still communicate. It’s possible to be very hurt by them and still be kind.

 

 

C. and me (and a little bit about shame)

I haven’t written much lately about what is going on with C. (or at all, truthfully — I was derailed for a bit by “the scandal” and the holidays). They are going very, very well. We are taking things slowly, but we’ve both realized we’re as much in love as ever and care for each other very deeply.

I am still working very, very hard on my own issues of anxiety and insecurity. Meditation has helped tremendously, and the increased self-awareness always helps me realize when I’m starting to feel that stomach-clenching anxiety creep up.

I try to stay in the present moment more. When I start to get panicky about the future and do my “ZOMG WHAT IF WE BREAK UP AND I GET HURT AGAIN?!” thing, I take a few deep breaths and “center myself” again. (I really hate that phrase, but I try to pay attention to what’s going on around me — the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sensations.)

Another thing that has helped tremendously is listening to Brene Brown’s “Men, Women and Worthiness.” It’s a short (maybe two-hour) audiobook where she delves into shame and the different ways men and women experience it, as well as how to become more “shame-resilient.” She discusses that women frequently experience shame as “not being enough” — pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, a good enough mom, etc.

THAT has been a major battle for me … “I’m not hearing from him more because he’s realized I’m not interesting enough or fun enough or pretty enough, so he must  have decided he’s done! I really suck. I can never keep a guy. Something must be really wrong with me.”

Her four elements of shame resilience are:

  • Recognizing shame and understanding the physical triggers.
  • Practicing critical awareness. (For example, what are the expectations from society and are they realistic?)
  • Reaching out and telling our story. (Connecting with others who have had the same experiences and realizing we aren’t alone.)
  • Speaking shame. (Discussing it with someone we trust, and responding appropriately when someone shames us.)

I’ve been amazed at what a big difference it makes to be able to go, “Hey, that’s shame!” And in my case, it’s frequently not others shaming me, but me shaming myself, so a lot of it is recognizing that negative self-talk and turning it around.

Another thing that I’ve been doing is a “feelings chart” suggested in “A Gift to Myself: A Personal Workbook and Guide to ‘Healing the Child Within’.” I actually keep mine on a Google Sheets spreadsheet and bookmark it on my computer; when I feel a strong (and especially an unpleasant) feeling, I fill it out. It looks like this:

Name of feeling Associated situation and experience Associated needs Usefulness

A little update

The past week has been … wow. My little blog, which I just started as a place to journal and work through my own crap, had nearly 2,000 hits. I neither expected nor particularly wanted such an audience for anything I wrote here, but I am glad that my story has reached others and I hope has encouraged more women to come forward.

And no, I never received a reply from the Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, which both saddens and angers me. The Catholic Church cannot afford to look less than 100 percent accountable and transparent when it comes to protecting its members.

Jonathan Ryan Weyer did text me last week to “apologize.” I found the apology to be primarily about how very difficult his life was now. I suggested that a better plan might be to publicly and very thoroughly apologize to the women he’d hurt, stay the hell out of their lives and then never do it again.

The following day, he posted a statement on his Facebook page, which was set to friends only and thus not actually visible to most, if any, of the women he targeted. He said he planned to leave it up for 24 hours, but it reportedly remained up for about 30 minutes.  You can read a copy of the statement here.

And, barring any major further developments, that’s all I plan to write on this topic.

Freeing up your head

When C. and I started talking again, Sara suggested that if we planned to try things again (that’s still not been determined, though we talk frequently), the most important thing would be for me to closely regulate myself. Don’t let my thoughts run away with me, and don’t let him take up too much space in my head.

Those will both be challenging, because if  I had a diagram of my head, it would show my relationship taking up about 95 percent of my brain space. And I don’t want to be the girl who is texting her friends, freaking out that “it’s been four hours and he hasn’t texted back”! Especially not at 41. Cripes.

So, here are some things I’ve tried and found helpful:

  • Slow living concept. Inspiration motivation quote Be here now. Mindfulness , Life, Happiness concept. 3d renderPractice meditation and mindfulness. I love the Headspace app and use it almost daily. I find that the self-awareness from my morning meditation often carries over into the rest of the day, and I’m more able to “catch” myself when I feel that tight, anxious feeling (about relationships or anything else) starting to form in the pit of my stomach, or my mind running away with a worry. Once I notice it, I can name it and then deal with it.
  • Center yourself. When I do feel my brain going haywire, one practice that helps me is just closing my eyes and paying attention to all my senses. What do I hear? (The hum of the furnace? Rain? The cat racing madly around the house after nothing?) What do I smell? Feel? Taste? (Hint: It’s usually coffee.)
  • Reduce your phone usage. This one is especially true if you’re the type who is  constantly checking to see if someone has called or texted. Leave it in the car. Leave it in your purse. Keep it face-down on your desk. Keep it in the other room. I recently started stopped charging mine in the bedroom at night, because I was spending too much time on it before bed and first thing in the morning. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Focus on what matters. If you have kids, don’t let their childhoods pass you by while you spend all your time worrying about a guy or checking your phone to see if he’s sent you a message. If you don’t have kids, take stock of the important people in your life and focus on them. Who are the people who could use you in their lives right now? Who are the friends who’ve supported you in the past? See how you can be there for them.
  • Stay busy. Read an involving book. Focus on your work, if you have a tendency to let our mind wander on the job. Listen to an audiobook or watch a great show. If those aren’t enough to keep you busy — and I’m a person who has trouble just sitting still and watching/listening to something — knit or do some other craft while you watch a show, or play an audiobook while you do housework. (I find that I am far more likely to do laundry this way, too! It takes it from household drudgery to “time to enjoy a book or podcast I really like.”) See a friend. Go to the gym, as I’ve read about previously.
  • Don’t try to figure others out. The things you would do and say, and the ways you would think and react, are not universal. If someone tried to see inside your head and figure out your motivations or thoughts, how right would they be? (This is NOT a suggestion that you ignore screaming red flags, just a gentle reminder that you likely don’t have psychic abilities.)
  • Notice when you find yourself creating scenarios in your head, especially “what if …?” scenarios. I read “The Worry Trick” last year, which suggested that when a worry starts with “what if,” it’s your brain playing, “Let’s pretend something bad.” The book further discusses that it is actually not helpful to try to ignore the thought, or to convince yourself that the scenario won’t happen, because we can often convince ourselves to worry about it, no matter how unlikely. A former therapist once told me to follow the “what if …?” through to its logical conclusion. “What if C. and I get back together again and then break up again?” for example. Instead of refusing to think about it because it’s so scary and stuffing the thought back down to lurk like Pennywise in the sewer, I can sit and think about what that would look like. “Well, it would probably hurt a lot, and we’d both be very sad and miss each other. But we both would get through it, and I think we would still be glad we gave things another shot.”